Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Top Chef Tidbits

Eric Ripert, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons spilled the beans on Top Chef during their appearance at the New York Times Arts & Leisure weekend. Entertainment Weekly has the scoop, but here are some highlights.

Chocolate and chicken liver don’t mix: The worst dish Eric Ripert, who has made a total of five appearances on Top Chef, ever ate on the show was Ilan’s chocolate ganache with chicken liver on season 2. Padma added: “It had a rubbery, spring action, and we had to eat it. That’s the thing about our jobs.”

The most distasteful contest: “Michael Midgley [from season 2] was as offensive off camera as he was on camera,” Padma said. “On his audition tape, he talked about ‘blanking chicks.’ I didn’t even want to taste the food he handled.”

The most egregious act of brown-nosing: Contestants are supposed to keep a safe distance from judges while on the show, but season five’s Stefan gave Padma the leftover roses from his challenge dish. A producer kindly came over and snatched the flowers out of Padma’s hand.

Who do the judges keep in touch with? Gail, who was quick to note that she socializes with contestants only after the finale airs, still talks to season one winner Harold and season four’s Nikki. Padma has kept in touch with Dale (season 3) and Hung (season 3 winner), but both women sang the praises of Lee Anne Wong, who went from season one cheftestant to Top Chef culinary producer until the end of season six. “She’s such a great unsung hero,” Padma said.

Kevin is as verbose as he is jolly: “Eeeeveryone loves Kevin,” Gail said. “He would start talking and kept talking [at the finale in Napa Valley]. We were transfixed. He’s so articulate and scientific.” To which Padma said: “For every two minutes of what Kevin said at judges’ table, there was a one-and-a-half hour culinary soliloquy.”

Speaking of judges’ table: They sometimes last eight hours. When Gail recalled the season three judges’ table finale in Aspen, there was a collective groan between her and Padma; the decision-making had gone on until about 4 a.m. “If we can’t make a decision, the producers will sit us there,” Padma said. “It’s like detention.” But Eric added: “It’s really great TV because at 5 a.m. you truly say what you mean!”

There’s an unofficial fifth judge at that table: Sometimes when the judges can’t decide, the producers will look to the camera operator they call T-Bone, who shoots the still-life shots of the contestants’ dishes, which he eats afterward.

Other fun facts: Black beans give Gail “the heebie-jeebies,” and the reason Padma sounds so robotic when she describes the challenges is because she’s wearing an earpiece through which all of the legally approved info is being fed to her.

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